Antarctica has no native or permanent human population. Due to extreme weather conditions and inhospitable surroundings. This is the reason for Its detachment from the rest of the world.
Moreover, mankind did not find Antarctica until the nineteenth century. Many explorers and scientists have visited the cold continent since then, but none have made it their residence.
Only scientists and tour guides who are engaged in the study, exploration, and preservation of the continent are now physically residing there. Additionally, Antarctica is also a famous tourist destination and had made it to the bucket list of a lot of people.
However, It’s crucial to remember, that with continued climate change, there might be one day or a period when this ice-covered continent can support permanent human habitation.
In this article ahead we will be discussing all the How do people live in Antarctica and to what extent we, have explored Antarctica. Let us dive into this topic to know more about this ice-covered Continent.
History of the Ice-Covered Continent
Long before people existed, the continent was a piece of a bigger land mass named Gondwana that settled over the south pole and separated from Australasia and South America.
People have estimated that there is a continent in the far south of the globe since the time of ancient Greece. But it wasn’t until 1820 that members of a Russian expedition made their first confirmed sighting of Antarctica, providing proof of its existence.
According to geological theory, humans are believed to have very recently emerged in East Africa (no more than 5 million years at most). After that, we departed from the ancestral place and migrated to every continent in the world.
For ancient peoples to find, Antarctica was already too remote due to its location, temperature, and rough waters. It wasn’t until 1820 that navigational techniques and human technology advanced to the point that anyone could sail far enough south to even have their first glimpse of Antarctica.
Several ill-founded claims that people first stepped foot on the Antarctic continent as early as 1820 exist, however, some historians regard the year 1899 as the undisputed first landing. There were no humans there when the first travelers arrived in Antarctica.
As a result, Antarctica is one of the few areas in the globe that can actually be said to have been found and discovered, as opposed to having people who had lived there for hundreds or even thousands of years prior to its “discovery.”
Caroline Mikkelsen, a Norwegian, was the first woman to step foot in Antarctica in 1935. The greatest expedition the United States has ever dispatched to the continent was there in 1947, and it took pictures that were used to map it.
Why and How do people live in Antarctica?
All 66 of Antarctica’s scientific stations, which serve as national research hubs, are dispersed around the continent. There are up to 1,300 people living in these little towns.
The majority of scientists and support personnel working in Antarctica have contracts that last between three and six months, however some work there for as long as fifteen months (two summers and one winter). Although it’s less typical now, it used to be rather normal for researchers to spend three summers and two winters in Antarctica.
Because of the extensive sea ice, strong winds, and poor visibility that winter brings, transit to and from scientific sites is only feasible during the summer.
The summer season in Antarctica lasts from October/November to March/April, while the rest of the year is regarded as winter. The number of people working may vary in size but normally have approximately 50 people there in the summer and 15-20 in the winter.
Some Antarctic guides also reside in or close to Antarctica for extended periods of time, in addition to scientists and researchers. On the coasts, islands, and mountains of Antarctica, expedition guides, mountaineering guides, and deep field guides have all spent a lot of time.
Despite the fact that they cannot formally identify as Antarcticans because the continent is not a nation, they undoubtedly have a bond and attachment with the place.
However, Antarctica is now the planet’s coldest, driest, and windiest region, making it uninhabitable for humans and the majority of other species of life. In the winter, the continent may experience temperatures as low as -90 degrees Celsius.
The temperature increases to a high of 5 degrees Celsius throughout the summer. In addition to the cold, Antarctica’s unfriendly climate is also influenced by the wind.
In reality, the continent has wind speeds that may reach 327 km/h, which is far quicker than the wind speeds of the majority of tropical storms. Precipitation is also significantly deficient in Antarctica.
In fact, the continent receives as little as 20 mm of precipitation annually, which is comparably small to the scorching deserts of the planet. Even though Antarctica has 70% of the world’s freshwater, it is really categorized as a desert.
Antarctica’s geography further contributes to its inhospitality. The continent spans 14.2 million sq. km, which, in theory, is more than enough land to house a sizable human population, until you realize that 98% of it is covered in ice. This ice is typically 1.6 km thick, although it may reach a thickness of 4.5 km.
Additionally, Antarctica is highly cut off from the rest of the globe. People were able to cross continents using land bridges at the very beginning of human history, which is how humans managed to colonize every continent on the globe, with the exception of Antarctica.
The huge Southern Ocean that envelops Antarctica has kept it isolated from other continents as there have never been any land bridges linking the two. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that humans did not reach the continent until the 19th century.
Which life forms are already there?
There are few places on earth that are as unfriendly to life as Antarctica. It is always below zero degrees, there is at least a mile of ice covering the ground, and violent storms are continuously scouring the area.
However, one of the pleasures of traveling to the white continent is taking in the amazing birds, mosses, and algae, as well as the wide variety of water life it harbors.
Given the severe weather, it is astonishing how numerous forms of life still exist. There isn’t much vegetation on the land itself since, even when it’s not covered in a lot of snow and ice, the soil is of low quality and doesn’t give plants much of a chance to grow. A dearth of moisture is also present because Antarctica is essentially a desert and only gets two inches of rain a year.
Additionally, there isn’t much sunshine to promote plant development. Mosses and liverworts, which are plants with dormant life cycles and include lichen, bryophytes, algae, and fungus, can be found on the continent.
You might be surprised to learn that Antarctica has 50 moss species, 700 kinds of algae, predominantly phytoplankton, and just 200 species of lichens.
In Antarctica, there are 38 Adélie penguin colonies, with more than five million of them living around the Ross Sea.
How do people survive in hostile Antarctica?
Antarctic scientific stations are isolated, self-sufficient outposts equipped with sturdy structures and modes of transportation to facilitate logistical operations, scientific research, and the everyday lives of the inhabitants.
There may be meal halls, medical facilities, educational facilities, and even greenhouses depending on the size of the station! Most also provide dormitory-style lodging and common rooms for entertainment and team-building exercises.
It may become so cold that you have to put on all of your clothing, including thick over pants, insulated boots, a bulky waterproof jacket, and gloves before venturing outside.
Inclement weather can make it difficult to move between buildings, and when there is a lot of wind or a whiteout, visibility may be so bad that nobody should venture outdoors at all.
But being on a research base can also be enjoyable since there are inter-station dart tournaments, short film contests, polar plunges, over-snow quad bike rides, and perhaps if you’re lucky, you can also enjoy a Zodiac sail down the stunning coastline.
The station personnel is in charge of making sure that the preservation of the Antarctic environment is always given priority. All operations in Antarctica are subject to environmental review.
How far have humans explored Antarctica?
Several nations started building research outposts in Antarctica in the late 1950s. Currently, the continent is home to 66 national research bases. These research facilities range in size from housing up to 1,300.
Though some remain as long as 15 months, most scientists and support personnel staff stay in Antarctica for three to six months. Only during the summer is it safe to travel to and from the continent since wintertime conditions, including as extensive sea ice, strong winds, and low visibility, make it impossible. In actuality, the majority of research sites in Antarctica shut down throughout the winter.
The only other individuals to have stepped foot in Antarctica, outside researchers and their support staff, are Antarctic tour guides and tourists. The guides may reside on or close to the continent and might be expedition guides, mountaineering guides, or deep field guides.
Antarctica has welcomed visitors since the 1950s. Each year, about 170,000 people travel to the continent, the majority of them coming from English-speaking nations, particularly the United States, while visitors from non-English-speaking regions of Europe and China are also on the rise.
A major concern for Antarctica
A huge mass of glaciers all across the world has been melting at a very fast pace since the onset of the 20th century. This is mostly the result of human activity and global warming.
In particular, since the industrial revolution, emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide have increased temperatures, even more in the poles, and as a result, glaciers are quickly melting and calving off into the sea, which will increase the sea level exponentially.
As sea levels rise due to melting glaciers and ice, more frequent and more powerful coastal storms, Tsunamis like hurricanes and typhoons are more likely to occur. This increases coastal erosion and storm surge in the rest of the world.
The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets in particular are the main causes of the rise in sea level worldwide. The Greenland ice sheet is already melting four times faster than it did in 2003, and it is already responsible for more than 20% of the current sea level increase.
The extent to which ocean levels rise in the future will be greatly influenced by how quickly and how much these Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt in the future.
By the end of the century, the Greenland ice sheet’s current pace of melting is predicted to have doubled if emissions keep rising. Alarmingly, if all of Greenland’s ice and glaciers disappeared, sea levels would rise by upto 20 feet.
The Arctic is currently warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet, and its sea ice is thinning by more than 10% per ten years. As this ice melts, darker ocean patches begin to appear. This eliminates the influence that previously cooled the poles, raising air temperatures and upsetting regular ocean circulation patterns.
It is likely that common people will be able to live in Antarctica in the future. The continent is warming quickly due to climate change. In actuality, the Antarctic Peninsula, the region of the continent closest to its neighbor, South America, is among the planet’s hotter regions.
The continent’s temperature has increased by 3 degrees Celsius on average during the last 50 years. Within the next two millennia, Antarctica could be able to sustain a permanent human population if climate change keeps up.
Given that climate change is causing not just higher temperatures but also more precipitation on the continent, it could even be conceivable for people to produce their own food there.
So there can be a possibility that in the near future Antarctica can be home to a number of the human population. But considering the worsening climate, it is our responsibility to preserve this beautiful continent and maintain the ecological balance.
Lastly, I hope now you have a better understanding of Why and how do people live in Antarctica.